What do Norman Blake, Mandolin Orange, The Grateful Dead, Phish, Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe and any number of classic and newer songs from the American music catalog have in common? A if you’re at Otto’s Pub & Brewery from 8-10 p.m. on Wednesdays, because you can often hear them all, along with Paul Brigman’s original compositions.
Few people have more heart than Brigman. You can hear it in his singing, you can hear it in his flatpicking and you can hear it or read it between the lines in his song selections. He’s a Centre County native, a folky, a Phish and Grateful Dead loving minstrel and a family man who has been playing music in numerous formats in the area for quite a while.
“I was raised by parents who loved music,” Brigman said. “My father collected Grateful Dead bootlegs and listened to blues, old time, bluegrass and folk music. My mother loved all Americana music, especially old folk music that was rich in harmonies. I learned to play guitar in middle school and began writing music and performing in high school. In college, I learned how to flatpick a bit and after college I learned how to play upright bass. Since then I have played guitar or bass in over half a dozen projects and performed solo shows that drew from the very music I grew up listening to, with a twist of my own taste and musical interests.”
I first met Brigman while he was slapping an upright bass at Zeno’s on Wednesday nights in Andy Tolins’ bluegrass band, while also working full time at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. The music was good, and Brigman brought his own brand of singing to songs like “Big Spike Hammer,” while he held down the bass lines in his unique, often improvisational way.
Ever the stylist, Brigman eventually outgrew the unit and continued to build a heartfelt repertoire with his favorite songs and original compositions at the core. It seems there is no music he won’t do, but he definitely has his favorites.
“I love all music,” Brigman said. “It is a vehicle to express emotion, ideas and stories. But if I had to say my favorite, I would lean toward Appalachian old time. Rawlings & Welch, The Stray Birds, Mandolin Orange, etc. Acoustic Americana with the soul of the mountains and the blues of hard times. There’s something uniquely genuine and authentic about the musical culture that has emerged from this part of the world that speaks to me and inspires my creativity.”
There is something unique and authentic about Brigman. While he can easily step in with groups and other musicians — and enjoys doing so — there is a magnetism in his solo shows. He’s personally experienced the blues of hard times, and he has a ready-made warm embrace for others who are having those same blues. He offers friendship and music, and the respite that comes from his live shows, where he can work out his darkness and offer his warmth to his audiences.
“I hope to continue performing locally and collaborating with other musicians who share my taste and passion for traditional and original music,” Brigman said. “Acoustic music is what I love to play so I am always looking for others who either want to jam or are seeking to build a more serious project. Perhaps most importantly, I hope to instill a love of music in my children and share the gift that was given to me by my parents with the next generation of my family.”
In the end, Brigman has the love, and he has a gift to give to his children, his wife, Becky, his friends and anyone fortunate enough to catch his show. But, Brigman is also a philosopher, and he knows it all starts within, which for him is a beautiful scene.
“In the moments when I become deeply connected with my music during a performance, it can best be described as an alignment of my intellectual, emotional, and physical being,” he said. “It is unlike any other experience that I can speak of or describe. When I am truly centered with my music, it is as if I am conducting, performing, and listening simultaneously and the world can, quite literally, stand still for a period of time. It is a beautiful experience.”
Brigman also plays with Virginia Meadows from 9-11 p.m. every third Saturday at Otto’s.
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.